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Free housing court workshops at Trinity Church reassures tenants: 'You have rights'

Trinity Church Wall Street and Housing Court Answers

Trinity Church Wall Street and Housing Court Answers are offering free workshops to help New Yorkers make their way through housing court. Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

There's a lot to know before you head to housing court and not being prepared could cost you.

That's why Trinity Church Wall Street and Housing Court Answers are teaming up to offer seven free legal workshops for those without legal representation.

Each workshop, which is slated from 3 to 5 p.m. each Thursday through Aug. 29, will cover a different topic, from NYCHA grievances to the rights of rent-stabilized tenants.

  • July 18 — Rent arrears assistance
  • July 25 — NYCHA rent adjustments and grievances
  • Aug. 8 — Holdover cases
  • Aug. 15 — Rights of rent-stabilized tenants
  • Aug. 22 — NYCHA termination hearings
  • Aug. 29 — Getting repairs

"The laws have recently gotten strengthened, and it's important for tenants to know what their rights are," said Jessica Hurd, the assistant director of Housing Court Answers. "It's important for people to seek out their own information. Housing court is as busy as it's ever been and fortunately, it is getting better because there is more access to attorneys. We are really starting to fight back and that starts with tenants being informed."

The workshops, now in their third year, are not only for tenants but for landlords and advocates, too.

There were about two dozen people at the first session, which was an overview of housing court that went over what to expect when you go, types of cases (nonpayments; holdovers; roommate holdovers; housing part actions; illegal lockouts), forms and documents you may see, definitions of what it means when your case is discontinued or there is a pending stipulation, and more. 

Housing Court Answers, a nonprofit organization that has tables at each borough's housing court, is not allowed to give legal advice but it does provide legal information to "empower you to handle your case," said Alexander Chaparro, a borough assistant who spoke at the first meeting.

Historically, few tenants have had legal representation when appearing in housing court — state court officials estimate the number at just 1 percent of defendants in 2013  — which resulted in a high number of evictions and unchecked tenant harassment, according to city officials.

In 2016, the city increased legal-assistance funding for those facing eviction and harassment from $6 million to $62 million, increasing tenant representation to 27 percent. Because of this, residential evictions declined 24 percent, allowing 40,000 people to stay in their homes over 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio raised funding to $93 million and signed a law that ensures that low-income tenants facing eviction will have representation by 2022.

That plan is being rolled out by ZIP code and is only for low-income tenants, which leaves out many renters who could use help, Chaparro said. 

Ultimately, the message Housing Court Answers and Trinity Church want to get across is that tenants have rights. 

"We have the notion that these powerful people who have more money than us or have lawyers are going to bang on our doors at the end of the month if we're late on a payment or sell the house we live in," Chaparro said. "They're always going to word things in that way, but you have the right to negotiate a payment plan and the right to negotiate a movement plan."

Because the workshops run from 3 to 5 p.m., it has been more accessible to workers who have taken advantage of the series, said Mandy Culbreath, who heads the program.

"People are making choices now between paying rent and food, so this is part of our outreach," Culbreath said. "What we've found over time is that this is one of the main struggles people are having so we wanted to address in this way. We feel that God has called us to help people stay in their homes."

If you go: The free legal workshops are from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursdays at the Parish Center at 56 Trinity Place, except for Aug. 1. There is no RSVP required and a translator can be requested.

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